Legislature(2005 - 2006)CAPITOL 106

04/07/2005 08:00 AM STATE AFFAIRS

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* first hearing in first committee of referral
+ teleconferenced
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
Heard & Held
Moved CSHB 144(STA) Out of Committee
Moved Out of Committee
Scheduled But Not Heard
Scheduled But Not Heard
Bills Previously Heard/Scheduled
Moved CSHB 201(STA) Out of Committee
HB  86-OMBUDSMAN HOTLINE                                                                                                      
8:06:19 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  SEATON announced  that  the first  order  of business  was                                                               
HOUSE BILL  NO. 86,  "An Act  establishing in  the office  of the                                                               
ombudsman  a state  executive branch  employee fraud,  waste, and                                                               
abuse report hotline program."                                                                                                  
8:07:15 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE KEVIN MEYER,  Alaska State Legislature, testifying                                                               
as sponsor  of HB 86, told  the committee that a  constituent who                                                               
works for the  federal government indicated that  that entity has                                                               
a  fraud,  waste,  and  abuse program,  in  which  employees  can                                                               
anonymously report and  fraud, waste, or abuse, in  order that it                                                               
may  be investigated  and appropriate  action may  be taken.   He                                                               
said HB 86 would establish a similar method for state employees.                                                                
REPRESENTATIVE MEYER  said currently,  under the  state's whistle                                                               
blower laws, a  state employee who wants to raise  a concern must                                                               
first  speak to  his/her  supervisor.   The  proposed bill  would                                                               
allow that  employee to call  a hotline.   He indicated  that the                                                               
state ombudsman would  receive that information and  report it to                                                               
"us" through the normal reporting  process.  He commented, "We're                                                               
constantly trying to reduce [state]  spending where we can, and I                                                               
think a program like this can give  us some ideas that we may not                                                               
have ever thought  of."  He noted that Oregon  saved $4.3 million                                                               
by introducing a similar program.   He said he believes there are                                                               
a lot  of good state employees  who want to do  what's right, but                                                               
don't want to jeopardize their jobs.                                                                                            
8:10:26 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  LYNN   said  the   military  has   a  "suggestion                                                               
program," which  is similar.   He pondered  whether some  kind of                                                               
award could  be offered.   For example,  if a  person's reporting                                                               
fraud  saves the  state a  certain amount  of money,  that person                                                               
could be given a percentage of the money.                                                                                       
8:10:55 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE  MEYER  responded  that   he  thinks  that  is  an                                                               
excellent idea,  and he said he  would need more time  to explore                                                               
how that money would be measured.                                                                                               
8:11:36 AM                                                                                                                    
LINDA LORD-JENKINS,  Ombudsman, Anchorage  Office, Office  of the                                                               
Ombudsman, Alaska  State Legislature,  in response to  a question                                                               
from Representative Gatto,  said the office has a  total staff of                                                               
seven:    the ombudsman,  an  administrative  staff person,  four                                                               
investigators, and  one intake officer.   She added that  she has                                                               
requested additional staff "in this funding cycle."                                                                             
8:12:05 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS  asked for  an estimate  of savings  to the                                                               
8:12:23 AM                                                                                                                    
MIKE  PAWLOWSKI,  Staff  to Representative  Kevin  Meyer,  Alaska                                                               
State Legislature, testifying on  behalf of Representative Meyer,                                                               
sponsor of HB  86, responded that he is not  certain he would [be                                                               
able to make  that estimate], because it is  difficult to surmise                                                               
where savings would be made.  He  said he thinks Oregon is a good                                                               
example.   He said he  is not sure the  money is as  important as                                                               
the confidence the bill could give back to people.                                                                              
8:13:14 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE RAMRAS  asked Mr.  Pawlowski if he  would describe                                                               
HB 86 as an empowerment bill.                                                                                                   
8:13:22 AM                                                                                                                    
PAWLOWSKI said he would.                                                                                                        
8:13:52 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  LORD-JENKINS said  the legislation  is  compatible with  the                                                               
Office of the Ombudsman.                                                                                                        
8:14:59 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  LORD-JENKINS,  in response  to  Chair  Seaton, reviewed  her                                                               
recommendations  for the  bill.   First, she  suggested that  the                                                               
proposed legislation be  amended so that the  hotline include the                                                               
legislative  and judicial  branches of  government.   Second, she                                                               
recommended that  the municipalities be removed  from the hotline                                                               
jurisdiction,  because the  ombudsman can  contract with  them to                                                               
provide services.                                                                                                               
8:16:24 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  LORD-JENKINS, in  response to  Chair Seaton,  detailed where                                                               
these suggested changes can be found  in a memorandum she sent to                                                               
Chair Seaton [included in the committee packet].                                                                                
8:17:23 AM                                                                                                                    
MS.  LORD-JENKINS  said her  third  recommendation  relates to  a                                                               
timeframe.  She  stated that currently, the  ombudsman takes into                                                               
account  the  timelines  of a  complaint;  under  regulations,  a                                                               
complaint is considered to be timely  if it has been filed within                                                               
a year  of the complainant's  last action  to try to  rectify the                                                               
complaint.   The proposed legislation  would eliminate  that time                                                               
frame.  She said:                                                                                                               
     I've recommended that, at the  very least, ... if it is                                                                    
     the  intent of  the legislature  to extend  timeframes,                                                                    
     that ... [they]  only be extended for  the fraud aspect                                                                    
     of  the  hotline reporting.    And  I recommended  that                                                                    
     (indisc. -- coughing)  possibly consider the timeframes                                                                    
     to be equal  to those of the statute  of limitations in                                                                    
     Alaska,   which  is   five   years.     However,   when                                                                    
     considering general  issues of ... waste  and abuse, [I                                                                    
     recommended] that  we stick  to the  existing ombudsman                                                                    
     timeframes of one year.                                                                                                    
8:19:14 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. LORD-JENKINS,  in response to  a question from  Chair Seaton,                                                               
confirmed that  she is saying  it is  good to have  timeframes so                                                               
that  somebody  doesn't  call the  ombudsman  to  complain  about                                                               
something that happened  eight years ago, for example.   She said                                                               
that does happen and it's  impractical for the ombudsman's office                                                               
"to  even  think  about  investigating."    She  offered  further                                                               
details.   She added,  "I think  that if you  want to  extend the                                                               
timeframe  regarding  fraud  -   which  generally  ...  would  be                                                               
considered  a  criminal  matter  -  ...  you  [would]  match  the                                                               
timeframes to the criminal statute of limitations."                                                                             
8:20:32 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. LORD-JENKINS directed attention to  page 2, beginning on line                                                               
24, which  is language that  would exempt the  existing provision                                                               
in [AS]  24.55 regarding judicial  appeal.  The  existing statute                                                               
says that  ombudsman action does  not extend any  judicial appeal                                                               
process available  to a  complainant.   She recommended,  "If the                                                               
legislation intends to extend any  relevant judicial appeal, then                                                               
HB 86 should specifically be amended to reflect that intention."                                                                
8:21:50 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEATON asked, "If this  did extend judicial appeal, and yet                                                               
it's totally anonymous, ... how would you handle that?"                                                                         
MS.  LORD-JENKINS   said,  "Practically   speaking,  if   it  was                                                               
anonymous,  it  ...  wouldn't  be  relevant;  but  we  have  also                                                               
recommended that  the language of  HB 86 be softened  at proposed                                                               
Section 24.55.222(c),"  [on page 2,  beginning on line 10].   She                                                               
stated that the proposed legislation  prevents the ombudsman from                                                               
attempting to identify  anyone contacting the hotline.   She said                                                               
her recommendation  is that the  language be changed so  that the                                                               
ombudsman is  allowed to  inquire about  the identity  of someone                                                               
"coming to the  hotline" and explain that  the ombudsman statute,                                                               
as it exists currently, keeps  confidential the identities of any                                                               
complainant coming to  the ombudsman for action.   She added, "We                                                               
would not  decline to act on  a complaint if the  complainant ...                                                               
desired anonymity."                                                                                                             
8:24:08 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. LORD-JENKINS,  in response to  a question from  Chair Seaton,                                                               
said, based  on her  experience, that  if a  complainant presents                                                               
his/her name  to the manager of  a hotline program, that  name is                                                               
kept confidential  and is not  presented to other agencies.   She                                                               
added,  "We  can  only  divulge  a  complainant's  name  if  they                                                               
specifically authorize us to."                                                                                                  
8:25:17 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE   GARDNER   asked  for   clarification   regarding                                                               
"extending judicial appeal."                                                                                                    
MS. LORD-JENKINS explained, "We don't  want our office to be used                                                               
as  a  conduit   to  extend  judicial  timeframes   if  it's  not                                                               
CHAIR SEATON  said a number  of the recommendations are  good and                                                               
he  thinks that  the  bill  sponsor would  like  to  talk to  the                                                               
ombudsman    in   detail    and   possibly    incorporate   those                                                               
recommendations into a committee substitute.   He asked Ms. Lord-                                                               
Jenkins to work with the sponsor to that end.                                                                                   
8:27:59 AM                                                                                                                    
REPRESENTATIVE GATTO offered  a scenario in which  an employee is                                                               
not  productive,  but  when  that  employee  is  let  go,  he/she                                                               
complains to the  ombudsman of being a  victim of discrimination.                                                               
He offered further details.                                                                                                     
8:29:20 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR  SEATON responded  that that  relates to  the Human  Rights                                                               
Commission and  not the Office of  the Ombudsman, and he  said he                                                               
wants  to ensure  the  focus  is on  a  fraud,  waste, and  abuse                                                               
8:30:11 AM                                                                                                                    
MS. LORD-JENKINS  noted that [the  Office of the  Ombudsman] does                                                               
have a  provision in statute  and regulation that allows  for the                                                               
office to decline  complaints that are made in "bad  faith."  She                                                               
said the  office realizes the  potential of someone to  abuse the                                                               
program, but she said she  thinks "we're pretty good at detecting                                                               
8:31:28 AM                                                                                                                    
CHAIR SEATON closed public testimony.                                                                                           
[HB 86 was heard and held.]                                                                                                     

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